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Suspect, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A decent movie around one hell of a car chase."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Like a lot of action pictures, "The Suspect" occasionally has too much going on could sometimes benefit from a little more clarity in its presentation. The good news is that those moments when the plot is convoluted and the camera just won't stay still are generally made up for when things lock in for a truly impressive chase.

The suspect is Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo), an former elite soldier for North Korea who defected to the South and is now working as a driver, mostly for Haejoo Group president Park Gun-ho (Song Jae-ho), another defector, while also trying to track down the man responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. When circumstances place Dong-chul at the scene when Gun-ho is murdered - and in possession of a crucial piece of evidence - the manhunt is undertaken by more than the local police: Corrupt NSIA agent Kim Suk-ho (Cho Seong-ha) is in charge of the investigation, while Colonel Min Se-hoon (Park Hee-soon) - who tangled with Dong-chul back when the latter was one of North Korea's top agents - does the work on the ground. The only ally Dong-chul has is former reporter Choi Gyung-hee (You Da-in), who has been trying to get him to participate in a documentary on defectors ever since she was fired from her old job.

There's a lot going on in the script by Lim Sang-yoon, especially early on, and there's the sense that a lot of it could be simplified. A lot of time is spent early on establishing the characters' bona fides, past interactions, and motivations, and the film gets some mileage (and some decent action) out of that, but to a certain extent, it really doesn't matter: Although there are certainly moments when this movie will remind an audience of The Fugitive, it never really turns into a murder mystery the way that movie did, and all the background that the audience is given helps round the characters and story out but you can have less of it, because it doesn't really matter that much when the characters are going to be smashing their way through things rather than setting traps for the real killer.

But, man, when that smashing starts, it doesn't really stop. It's a bit exhausting at times, but Gong Yoo and Park Hee-soon are up for whatever director (and former stuntman) Won Shin-yeon asks of them. Won and his team of cinematographers may go the route of the shaking camera a little too much for my taste, but even when the precise action is a little obscured, there's still the impression of people hitting hard and knowing how to do it for maximum damage. It's the car chases where Won and company really excel, though - the one at the center of this movie is fantastic, filled with bits that you may have seen before but which are executed a little (or a lot) better here, as Won has his characters plow through Seoul with seeming metal-rending abandon. What makes them even more fun that other ones enacted with similar technical precision is that they get across the drivers' personalities: The way Dong-chul smashes through barricades indicates that he not only knows his stuff, but is fearless in addition to being highly trained and clever. Min's pursuit feels dogged and reckless; for bits that are all crashes and CGI, they never feel dehumanizing.

And while the characters those chases are helping the filmmakers express are kind of standard ones for the genre, they're played by a game cast that has fun with them. Gong Yoo has the lead role, and he's more amiable than one might expect for a creature of obsession, he's not all angst, and the charm isn't entirely left in the flashbacks. Park Hee-soon is the guy having the most fun, though, getting to play the wiseass who is driven, smart, and skilled enough to be his quarry's equal; he gets the audience to buy in enough that even when the movie has a bit of a joke at Min's expense when Ji escapes his grasp again, it doesn't diminish the character. Park also has a fun rapport with Jo Jae-yun, who plays Min's second-in-command as not quite so assuredly capable but amusing in his gum-smacking nervousness. You Da-in may be easy to dismiss as the one screaming to make sure you recognize that a chase is nuts, but she performs sidekick duty well. Cho Seong-ha, on the other hand, puts maximum effort into making his face as punchable as possible as Suk-ho, all in as the bad guy.

That sort of enthusiasm counts for a lot. It does not quite vault "The Suspect" into the ranks of the truly great action films, but it prevents it from being a few good (or even great) action scenes surrounded by enough filler to be too much of a good thing. It's big and fun, as opposed to just big.

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originally posted: 07/22/14 06:08:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 22-Jul-2014



Directed by
  Shin-yeon Won

Written by
  Sang-yoon Lim

  Yoo Gong
  Hee-soon Park
  Da-in You
  Seong-ha Cho

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